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Jewish World Review / Oct. 28, 1998 /8 Mar-Cheshvan, 5759


Mugger Lowered expectations, but the GOP holds the cards

I'M WRITING JUST EIGHT DAYS before the election and from this corner it appears the GOP will have plenty of reasons to celebrate. Could be wrong, but it looks like a gain of about 18 House seats and five in the Senate.

True, Newt Gingrich was tempting fate, as usual, by proclaiming that his party could win possibly 40 seats in the House, echoing triple-agent Dick Morris' speculation of a 30-40 seat pickup, but most Republicans, and conservative pundits, are keeping their lips buttoned, just to tamp down expectations.

Mr. Newt
Even The Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes lowered his Senate prediction last weekend to only two seats. Democratic consultant-for-hire Robert Shrum, easily the most repellent man in the business, told the Post a week ago that "Democrats could win the House back—Republican gains will be single-digit at best. The Senate will be a draw." Then again, Shrum has a lifelong habit of backing losers—another Kennedy acolyte gone to seed—so take his words as those of a loon.

Chris Matthews, on his show Hardball last Friday night, was positively ebullient about Clinton's success in brokering a Mideast peace accord, but I have the feeling—especially since those agreements are a dime a dozen—this will be a minor uptick for the President.

Can you say Jonathan Pollard? Not so, contends Newsweek's Jonathan Alter in this week's issue: "And what a weird moment it is. If the Republicans pick up seats in the midterm elections, Bill Clinton might soon be impeached and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at the same time."

Sure. I prefer William Safire's conclusion in Monday's Times: "I was about to give Clinton a medium salute, but then he had to preach to black ministers that the negotiation had been part of ‘my personal journey of atonement.' This one was for Monica? That self-absorbed confusion of his need for political forgiveness with the nation's need for an effective chief executive was smarmy and solipsistic. As J.F.K. would say, ‘no class.'"

And after all, the Paula Jones case remains unresolved, polls show a GOP advantage among likely voters, the Republican Party is pouring cash into close races and Clinton still can't shake Lewinsky's tail. Just last week, he sent an apology to the Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock.

The Rev. Rex Horne read the letter to his congregation, which "expressed repentance for his actions, sadness for the consequences of his sin on his family, friends and church family, and asked forgiveness from Immanuel." Echoing the Great Communicator, all I can say is "There he goes again," putting the word "sin" in the singular, but that's the Clinton we've come to known and despise.

Molly Ivins, the gaseous lefty who writes for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, was uncharacteristically gloomy last Saturday, as if she's reconciled to a bad showing for her beloved Democrats.

"What a commercially disgusting political year it is," she said. "Both sides lobbing stink bombs on the airwaves with unparalleled disregard for truth, probity or the mental health of the citizenry." When have we heard that opinion before? Why, only every two years. She continues: "Leading off, in the totally vacuous, noninformation mode, we have George W. Bush, who seems to be running for an insurance company position. He's an optimist, he's responsible, he's honest, and he likes family. At no point do we get a single hint of what he's for or against, what he has done (not much to report), or what he plans to. There's just not much there there."

Molly, I've got a surprise for you: he plans to move to Washington, DC, two years from now.

Cancer New York's Senate race will be no exception to the GOP wave on Nov. 3. Sure, Al D'Amato made a dumb faux pas last week by calling Rep. Jerry Nadler "Jerry Waddler," and the "putzhead" remark aimed at his opponent Chuck Schumer has Democratic consultants popping the bubbly, saying this was the turnaround they needed to combat the Fonz's prodigious warchest.

In fact, the "putzhead" jibe was hardly an ethnic slur; it was delivered to a small group of 40 people, of which D'Amato was the only person who wasn't Jewish. Give Schumer credit: His campaign team produced an instant commercial that features D'Amato denying making the joke and then fuzzily admitting it, which dovetailed perfectly with the Congressman's theme that the incumbent is a corrupt liar.

Schumer, as a Jew, is grasping at straws to gain any advantage in an election that is clearly up for grabs. He called the "putzhead" shot a "cheap slur against me" and linked it to D'Amato's using as a prop Holocaust survivors to demonstrate his pro-Israel positions. Schumer, who hasn't a competitor in current New York politics for self-righteousness, was livid, saying, "I lost family in the Holocaust, and my wife lost family in the Holocaust," implying that D'Amato, as a Catholic, was not entitled to speak out about issues of interest to Jewish voters. More importantly, Schumer was trying to distract voters from D'Amato's heavy tv blitz about Schumer's poor attendance record in Congress this year.

Post editorial page editor John Podhoretz wrote last Friday that none of the attendees were offended. "Most people chuckled when D'Amato called Schumer a putzhead. Every Jew in New York knows that Gentile politicians here love to use Yiddishisms before Jewish audiences as a gesture of familiarity. The idea that putz is an ethnic slur is preposterous. It's an insult, not a slur. Was the senator being nice? No, he wasn't. But who started calling whom a liar the minute the primary was over in September? Putzhead, that's who." On the same day in the Post, Jackie Mason and Raoul L. Felder suggested that D'Amato should've called Schumer a schmuck instead of a putzhead.

The Times, in its Sunday endorsement of Schumer, wasn't as amused. Declaring that it's "a pleasure to take sides" in this election, the paper piously lectured: "The D'Amato attempt to capitalize on Mr. Schumer's missed procedural vote on using the Capitol Rotunda for a Holocaust memorial carried the whiff of panic. So, too, did Mr. D'Amato's use of a vulgar term to describe Mr. Schumer and his ridiculing of Representative Jerrold Nadler for being portly. These incidents reminded voters of the cruelty and tastelessness that have pocked this Senator's career."

Funny, D'Amato's alleged "cruelty" didn't detract the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights organization, from endorsing the Senator over Schumer, contrary to the popular belief that the gay vote is the sole province of Democrats.

Writing about Saturday's debate between the two candidates, neither Newsday's Jimmy Breslin nor the Daily News' Michael Daly was impressed.

Breslin: "All I get from D'Amato's screaming is that he's calling Schumer a Jew. In doing this he hoped to get all of upstate roused against the threat from Brooklyn. Schumer let you know that he thinks D'Amato is a totally dishonest strong-arm guy, meaning Italian." Daly: "In the debate, Schumer summoned the issue of trust and did manage to prove himself more unlike Al D'Amato than their commercials suggest. The problem was Schumer seemed taken with his own ads. He repeatedly tapped his chest like he was touching somebody wonderful. On his part, D'Amato acted like he was an ad. He raised the largely specious issue of Schumer's attendance record no matter what the question."

Along with the Barbara Boxer-Matt Fong matchup in California, New York's Senate election is attracting the most national attention. Beltway pundits, of course, are rooting for Schumer, with The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne only the most obvious in his partisanship. To most of the buttondowned members of the press corps D'Amato is a sleazy, coarse pol who hasn't the right to sup in their town. That he's a wily politician, which you'd think they'd admire, or is popular with constituents, for whom he delivers, is of no importance.

Dionne writes that "I've known and liked Schumer since I met him in college nearly 30 years ago. But the point here is not personal." Right. He then outlines how D'Amato has defeated previous opponents, saying that the Senator "practically ran as Bill Clinton's running mate" in '92, when in fact Clinton was perceived as a liberal in his first presidential race and D'Amato's slogan was that Robert Abrams was "too liberal for New York."

Most incredulous of all is his conclusion: "Watch this race. Enjoy it. And pray that there aren't many like it." What a joke. This is precisely the kind of election that reporters lap up. It's entertainment, it's a welcome diversion from the rigors of everyday life and Dionne is simply being condescending by denying it.

As of Monday, the reliable pollster John Zogby had the race as a toss-up, with D'Amato losing ground in the suburbs. However, with the likelihood of a minuscule New York City turnout, I think D'Amato will be returned to the Senate by a tiny margin.

JWR contributor "Mugger" is the editor-in-chief and publisher of New York Press. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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10/16/98: Gore for President: The Bread Lines Are Starting to Form

©1998, Russ Smith